The overlapping wedding rings on my parents’ tombstone aren’t gold, of course, but aside from color, they look much the same as the photo that was the GBE2 prompt this week.
My mother selected that tombstone when my father died in 2005 at the age of 85. The leaky heart valve that kept him from becoming a pilot in the Army Air Corps finally gave out.
My mother hardly knew what to do after that. From the age of 17, her life had been devoted to him.
Neither of my parents came from happy circumstances. My father’s mother died when he was 15. His father was left with seven children, from 17 or so to just a few months old. He did what he had always done—he left them while he went to find work in the Texas and Oklahoma oil fields.
The children lived with relatives while my father tried to finish high school. Finally he and his younger brother left the girls with an aunt and uncle and hopped a freight train to join their father and find work.
My mother’s father was a barber—a good one, I’ve been told. My grandmother was only 13, one of a large family trying to make a living off a small farm in the Midwest, when they married. She had her first child at 15 and was told she probably wouldn’t be able to have any more. About 15 more years passed before she did.
I don’t know when my grandfather started to drink, but I know he was dangerous when he did. Fortunately, he didn’t usually stay home for long. Unfortunately, every time he returned, my grandmother had another child—until his mother gave her the money to divorce him.
By then, my grandmother had four young children to rear at a time when government aid was nearly non-existent. She worked as a cook in a restaurant all day and ironed for people most of the night. Her oldest son helped as much as he could, but he had a wife and two daughters of his own. So to lighten her burden, my mother dropped out of school at the age of 16 and went to work as a waitress.
Then oil was discovered in Illinois. Drilling in Texas and Oklahoma was showing down, so my father came with his father and stepmother to try their luck in this new area. They often stopped to eat at the restaurant where my mother worked. My mother, now 17, shapely and with a bubbly personality, didn’t care for the boastful older man, but the 20-year-old with the baby face and curly hair was quiet and cute and seemed sweet.
Her boss noticed and said, “Bet you can’t get a date with him.”
My mother responded, “Bet you a quarter I can.”
A week later she collected the quarter. A month later, they married. My father had been 21 just about a week, and my mother was a few months shy of 18. World War II had started, money was scarce, and they expected my father to be drafted any time. Instead, my father joined the Army Air Corps and started training to be a pilot, then a navigator when the leaky heart valve was discovered. The war ended just as he finished training.
My parents went on to build their own house, own their own electrical contracting business, and raise two daughters. When he was in his 40s, my father passed his GED with flying colors and went to work as an electrician for a large university. They had a long and happy retirement before my father’s health began to fail. They were married 64 years.
After he died, my mother moved to a condo near my house. We went out to eat, we shopped, and we took trips together before she started to show symptoms of Lewey Body dementia. She never stopped wanting to be with my father, even in death, and saw him frequently during that last year. She died in 2008 at the age of 86.